Free of Qaddafi, a City Tries to Build a New Order
Published: March 6, 2011
BAYDA, Libya — The signs in Bayda still read the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab State of the Masses. It was never much of a state, nor did the people have much say. Now two weeks after its liberation, residents of this highland town have the task of making it so, a challenge that may prove pivotal to the course of Libya’s revolt.
Far from the front, in mood and reality, Bayda, an eastern city that was one of the first to embrace the anti-Qaddafi revolution, has now also embraced the work of what might follow: building a state on a landscape riven by divisions of tribe, piety and class in a country whose leader spent four decades in power dismantling anything that might contest his rule.
The new police chief has less than a third of his officers and worries that vigilantes might not surrender their weapons. He has no prison. Hundreds have volunteered for work, but on Sunday, many sat under a tent watching the news channel Al Jazeera. With revolutionary fervor, and a resurgence of pride in running their own lives, residents have set up a slew of committees to impose order, distribute charity and run schools, but even its own members admit they have more enthusiasm than experience.
That it has gone as well as it has is a testament to the strength of the society in a place like Bayda, where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi conquered but could not divide.
“Our task isn’t easy,” said Mahmoud Bousalloum, a graduate student and one of the committees’ organizers. “We don’t have parties, we don’t have a constitution, we don’t have political organizations, we don’t have an effective civil society. We have to create a completely new state and we have to do it in the middle of a war and revolution.”
A city of roughly 250,000, Bayda spills across a plateau in northeast Libya called the Green Mountain, which takes its name from the pine, juniper and wild olives that are native here. It was one of the first cities to fall after two youths were killed in a clash on Feb. 16, and the graffiti of the moment still washes over walls and government buildings.
The slogans borrow from the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, but are more personal. There is no call for the overthrow of the government; only Colonel Qaddafi is mentioned, as lackey, tyrant and the man with really bad hair. The graffiti also hints at the anxiety in a city where tribal elders still hold sway and religious currents have cultivated a following.
“No to destruction and violence, no to corruption and tribalism,” reads one. “There’s no difference between East and West, we’re all Libyan,” intones another.
For decades, Bayda was run by the pretenses of Colonel Qaddafi’s Green Book, his supposed blueprint for a revolutionary state. There were Popular Committees that carried out the orders of the Popular Conference, but as Tawfiq Bughrara, a cleric here put it, “The head of it didn’t have the power to pick up a glass and set it back down.”Read More...